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Preview: Hell Yes Fest 

Will Coviello runs down the comedy festival highlights and talks to comic Giulia Rozzi

click to enlarge Giulia Rozzi is a comedian, storyteller and Bad Bride.

Photo by Mindy Tucker

Giulia Rozzi is a comedian, storyteller and Bad Bride.

In her standup act, comedian Giulia Rozzi sometimes tells a joke about working as a nanny in New York City. She went to retrieve her young charge at school, and he informed her that he had chili for lunch. As they rode the subway to Brooklyn, the boy was increasingly distressed about needing to get to a restroom. He asked her if she could make the train go faster.

  "I told him, 'If I could do magic things like that, I wouldn't be doing this job,'" Rozzi says.

  They made it to their subway stop but didn't get home before the boy lost control. His mother was mortified.

  "I hope you're not going to use this story onstage," she said to Rozzi.

  "'Absolutely not,'" Rozzi says she told the woman. "But then she fired me two months ago. So, Charles Jackson shat his pants!"

  Rozzi admits she changed the boy's name, but she also says that striving for honesty is important to her style of comedy, especially in autobiographical works like Bad Bride, about her doomed and short marriage. In addition to stand-up and a Bad Bride show, she'll teach a storytelling workshop at the comedy festival.

  Hell Yes Fest is taking a different approach from recent years, says founder Chris Trew, who together with Tami Nelson recently opened The New Movement's new comedy theater on St. Claude Avenue, the central hub for the festival. Instead of building the festival around big-name stand-up acts, the slate is full of creative programming, focusing on improv and sketch comedy and incorporating interactive competitions, film and video games.

  Rozzi specializes in long-form storytelling. She won the Moth GrandSLAM storytelling contest in New York in 2011 for a story that's part of Bad Bride. In it, she recounted separating from her husband the morning after he gave her karaoke performance of Alicia Keys' "No One" a bad review.

  Rozzi says she remains close to her ex but that Bad Bride bucks conventional expectations that the man is the partner who gets cold feet and resists settling down and monogamy.

  "I didn't really spend a lot of time with my fiance," she says. "That's a pretty big sign you don't want to be married. He's a lovely human being. Maybe if I met him now, it'd be different. But at the time, I really wanted to be by myself. There's a big difference between alone-time and get-the-f—k-away-from-me time."

  Rozzi didn't make jokes about her wedding and marriage until several years after her divorce, and she says it took time to find the meaning that makes the story funny and compelling.

  "Comedy is therapeutic, but it shouldn't be therapy," she says. "Sometimes you're the asshole in the story, but you still want to present it in a way that the audience is still on your side," she says. "If you're good, you can tell the most horrific story and still have the audience rooting for you."

  Rozzi is still developing Bad Bride, hoping to launch a TV pilot and book. She's also preparing for an episode of Comedy Central's This Is Not Happening, but it's not about relationships, she says. It's another scatological story, but autobiographical.

  At Hell Yes Fest, Rozzi performs Bad Bride at 8:30 p.m. Friday at The AllWays Lounge, is in the Studio 8 stand-up comedy showcase at 8 p.m. Saturday at Hi-Ho Lounge and teaches a storytelling workshop Saturday afternoon (visit the festival website for details).

  The festival includes many types of comedy, including sketch and improv work and shows styled as competitions. Comedian Rob Gagnon introduced Stoned vs. Drunk vs. Sober at The New Movement's Austin, Texas theater a year and a half ago. It pits comedians in varying states of sobriety against one another to see which condition is most conducive to comedy.

  "It's always funny when a comic says, 'I'm not that stoned,' and then 10 minutes later they're terrified to go on stage," Gagnon says.

  Gagnon and co-host (and drunk wrangler) Lisa Friedrich present the show at 10:30 p.m. Friday at The New Movement.

  While not new to The New Movement, Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction has become an entertaining touring event run by Bryan Cook. It involves audience suggestions and spontaneous writing. It's at 9 p.m. Friday at Cafe Istanbul.

  Colt Cabana is a professional wrestler and comedian, and his show Colt Cobana and Friends is at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday at Cafe Istanbul. Visiting alternative comedy groups include Power Violence, a rowdy skateboarding- and punk music-inspired group based in Los Angeles, and Wham City from Baltimore.

  "It's a comedy nerd festival," Trew says. "You may not recognize everyone from TV, but these people all do amazing stuff in their part of the country. We want to build an event defined by a variety of styles."

  There are tickets for individual events, but Hell Yes also offers a festival wristband, so attendees can see several shows in an evening at the concentrated cluster of venues, including The New Movement, The Shadowbox Theatre, The AllWays Lounge, Hi-Ho Lounge, Siberia and Cafe Istanbul. The festival includes short films and videos screened at Indywood Cinema. There also will be food trucks on St. Claude Avenue.

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